A Bishop’s Pilgrimage to Nogales, Mexico

Refugees wait to cross over from Mexico to the United States | Bishop Kirk Smith | Diocese of Arizona

The Rt. Rev. Kirk S. Smith, Bishop of Arizona, describes spending time among refugees in Mexico:

A little more than a week ago, I traveled to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, to be with some of the refugees seeking asylum in this country. I was deeply saddened by the suffering I witnessed, but also heartened by the good work that Deacon Rodger Babnew and his team of volunteers are doing. Your church is present with our brothers and sisters who are scared, hungry and cold, and you can feel gratified about our ministry there. Later in this article, I will tell you how you can help.

First some background. Our border work is done mainly through the Diocesan ministry, Cruzando Fronteras. This association of Episcopal churches, other churches, and outside agencies works particularly with families who have traveled north from Central America, often walking hundreds of miles fleeing violence in their own county. Most will be able to cross when they arrive, but will need to wait about two weeks to be processed through the system. It is during that time of waiting that we have contact with them. Once on the U.S. side of the border, they will taken to a drop off point in Tucson, and from there will travel to stay with a relative or institution who has agreed to sponsor them until their court hearing. This can take as long as three years.

Most arrive with little (if any) money, and since they come from the tropics, are woefully underdressed for our high desert winter climate. They told me how grateful they are for the food, blankets, shelter, and medical care that our churches help provide.

Now the travelogue: my first stop was to speak with some of the families which were getting ready to cross that day. They seemed the most terrified of all. No doubt, because they still are not exactly sure where they are going, and are scared that process may be halted at any time.

Next, we went to a shelter called La Roca made up of several ramshackle buildings a few feet from the wall. There was no heat and no electricity. But there was food and blankets and a place to sleep. My heart was won over by a little girl named Gabriella, a five year old with an infectious smile. I brought lots of candy with me, and I was very popular wherever I went! After making a run to the local “big box” store to buy supplies, we continued on to a shelter for women and children. Many of the women there were widows, whose husbands had been killed by gang violence. Conditions here were better, and they had access to health care, managed by a nurse/missionary from our diocese, Kathleen O’Leary.

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